The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Going to Cons without going broke

I’ve seen a lot of posts in forums and groups lately talking about how difficult it is for game designers to get to conventions (Cons) and whether they are worth it, so I thought it would be helpful to share some thoughts on this with you here from my experience and through learning from others.

The truth is you will definitely improve the odds of getting your game signed with a publisher considerably if you are able to meet with them in person. There are many reasons for this, including the ability to develop a stronger relationship through face-to-face communication and being able to demo the game and answer questions in real time.

If you’re serious about getting your game out to the world through a publisher, attending cons and meeting with publishers in person puts you in a much better position. It’s also a great way to network and build relationships with publishers.

Even if the game you’re pitching isn’t a good match for them, you can still get business cards and contact information so you can more easily reach out to these publishers with future games. They may even mention another publisher who would be a better fit.

If you want to be a game designer, you’ll definitely need to make more than one game in your lifetime. Your first game will also likely not be your best. It may never get published. So, having these connections can be very helpful. This makes it much easier than cold emailing a generic “info” or “support” mailbox.

Now having said that, it can be expensive to travel to these events, and their costs could definitely outweigh any potential revenue you could receive from your games (at least right away).

The best approach is to pick just one or two cons to go to and make the most of your time there. You don’t have to attend every one of them. Pick an event where there will be a lot of publishers present, particularly ones that would be a good match for your game, and where they will not be crazy busy.

GenCon and Essen are usually the busiest times for publishers, as they are releasing some of their biggest games of the year. Other conventions, such as Origins, are a much better option.

Also, if you can get a seat in a publisher speed dating event, this is a great opportunity to meet a number of publishers within a very short time.

Pitching more than one game while at a Con can make it more efficient as well. As long as your games are good and well playtested, you stand a higher chance of getting one signed if you have multiple games you’re pitching to multiple publishers.

Many publishers prefer to meet at these events because they are already there, and this give them have the chance to get to know both the designer and their game more intimately. Getting a publisher’s undivided attention can go a long way compared to waiting for them to reply to you or eventually try out the prototype you sent them.

Conventions are also a great place to try out new games, meet new people, and just have fun. It’s definitely worthwhile to set aside some dedicated time to meet with publishers. If this is a 3 to 5 day event, you’ll also have the opportunity to do whatever you like the rest of the time.

If conventions are not a possibility for you, due to costs, physical constraints, anxiety, or perhaps where you’re located, you could also consider asking other designers you know and trust who are also familiar with your game(s) if they would be willing to pitch your game to publishers. If you go this route, make it worthwhile for anyone who is helping you. Offer to cover some of their Con expenses or share a portion of the royalties as if they were acting as an agent for you.

The ticket price for Cons is negligible compared to other costs you may incur. Your biggest expenses will likely be accommodations and transportation (driving/flying/train or bus). Food will likely be next, followed by the cost of the ticket. You may also spend money on tickets for speed dating/pitching events, talks, or other events. If you buy any games while you’re there, well, that’s another cost, but more of a personal nature.

Here are some tips to keep costs down and ensure that going to Cons and other events are more worthwhile:

Schedule your meetings in advance

Make the most of both your time and a publisher’s time by scheduling a meeting about 2 to 4 weeks prior to the event rather than pitching to them when they’re busy at their booth. You can also try to book all your meetings within a day or two if possible if you don’t want to stay for the duration of the event.

Speed dating

Attend a speed dating event if one is offered. This is your opportunity to put your game in front of a number of publishers over the course of an hour or two.

Travel with others

If you can drive or otherwise travel to the event with others, you can save money by splitting gas, accommodations, and any other expenses. This is also a great time to brainstorm and potentially collaborate on game ideas with others.

 Phone a friend

If you know someone who lives in the area, see if you can stay with them. If you can stay in their spare room or couch-surf for a few nights, you can save a lot of money.

Stay close by

Most events happen at or near a hotel. If there are spots still available, you may be able to stay there or somewhere nearby to save yourself time, however, the trade-off is that it will be more costly. It’s a balance of time and money. Book early to have the best selection and prices.

Alternative accommodations

Another alternative is to look for places to stay through Air BNB. Even just booking a room as opposed to a whole suite or home can save you a lot of money, especially if the only time you’ll be there is to sleep.

Eat smart

Pack some of your own food and snacks, to save you time, money, and allow you to eat healthier if you choose

Volunteer and make connections

One great way to both save money and make more connections is through volunteering.

Contact publishers to see if they need any volunteers to help with demoing games or anything else at their booth. Many will cover the cost of your badge and maybe even part of your accommodations. If you can spare some time to help a publisher, this cannot only save you money, but also gives you the opportunity to get to know them, which could make it easier to pitch a game to them in the future.

Go local

Look for local events. The closer these are to home, the less you’ll have to spend.

By combining a number of the options above, you can attend events with relatively little money out of pocket, so long as you aren’t traveling halfway around the world to attend.

If you’re not able or not interested in attending these events, there are some alternatives, including pitching through email, referrals, using an agent, or entering game design contests.

I’ll write more about each of these options in a future blog post.

What have your experiences been with pitching games to publishers at conventions? What other tips do you have to keep costs down when attending them?

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